07 September 2006

The Ugly Stupid Season Kicks Off

Here we go again, it's 62 days of idiocy until the mid-term elections, then it will be at least another 62 of recriminations and chest thumping afterwards. The Republicans are getting nervous and that's going to make things even worse than usual. You don't corner a rattlesnake and expect it not to strike.

It burns my ass to say this - because I tend to agree more often with Democrats than Republicans - especially these days - but Republicans are better at playing politics than Democrats. That's because they're more ruthless, better organized and more unified.

The big push started yesterday. They are going to force a congressional vote on establishing legal military tribunals of the sort that President Bush already had shot down by the Supreme Court. Nevermind that the proposed tribunals stomp all over many of the very same rights that we're supposedly protecting from the bad guys. Nevermind that even a lot of Republican congressmen and senators get queasy feelings in their guts when they think about giving the President what he wants.

It's an election year. If dumbing down the debate over how to deal with terrorism to the President's level of, "you're either with us or you're against us," and hammering away at the Constitution helps the Republicans to keep control of Congress, well, that's all that really counts. Isn't it? Republicans stick together better than Democrats do when it comes to the really important things; like getting re-elected.

Keep in mind that this is a mid-term election; one in which voter turnout is traditionally very low. The party that wins this election is going to be the party that gets the most bodies to the polls. There's been an awful lot of speculation that GW Bush won Ohio - and thus the 2004 Presidential Election - because Republicans cheated. I don't know if that's true or not, but I do know that the Ohio vote would not have been close enough to steal if it hadn't have been for the Republicans mobilizing voters to come out in droves to ban gay marriage.

The Republican Party has perfected the art of confusing the important issues in elections with hot button, emotional issues that rally their natural supporters. People flock to the polls to vote against gay marriage or medical marijuana (or civil rights ballot measures in the South in the 1960s and '70s; which is when and how the South started voting Republican). Since those people are in the voting booth anyway, they might as well punch another couple of holes for Republican candidates.

The problem is, how do the Democrats combat that? Fear, negativity and simplicity almost always have greater emotional resonance than anything positive or complicated or intellectual.

Unfortunately politics in the U.S. isn't so much a battleground of ideas as it is of personalities. The Republicans have succeeded in recent years because they've managed to scare people shitless; over taxes, over terrorists, over drug-crazed homosexuals coming for their kids. They've managed to pass themselves off as the nation's protectors from these terrible scourges.

The only way to fight that is with reassuring charisma. FDR talked Americans into believing that the only thing they had "to fear, was fear itself." JFK oozed charm and smarts and strength (which was a pretty neat trick for a guy with all his medical problems.) Jimmy Carter was comfortingly honest and fatherly and his timing was good; any Democrat could have defeated Gerald Ford, the guy who was appointed by and then pardoned Nixon. Bill Clinton wanted to hug everybody, and there was something about him that made people want to hug him back. LBJ was the exception. He rode in on the coattails of the even-more-popular-after-his-assassination Kennedy and he also played the fear card nearly as well as the Republicans do today. He cast his opponent, Goldwater, as the crazy guy who was going to blow us all up.

I don't know what's going to happen in this mid-term election campaign other than that it will be gruesome and stupid and brutal and by the end of it anyone with a lick of sense will be even more fed up with politics in this country than they are already. Two years from now though, it's going to be even uglier. And the Democrats either need a candidate with charisma, a lot of it; or they need to find a way to scare the pants off voters about four more years of a Republican president.


David P. said...

It always surprises me when intelligent people get so riled up about the course of politics or elections. It's a natural course. The sheeple of this country always get the president they deserve. They're like our current dictator: don't know too much, don't want to know too much... they want the government to coddle them and do their thinking for them 24/7. Common sense really isn't all that common, is it?

Republicans, especially fanatical ones, are pretty much the bottom of the barrel insomuch as they feel their idealogy gives them God given right to steer this country (and the world) any which way they want, but Democrats can be a fairly carniverous species themselves. It was a Democrat who dropped the Hiroshima bomb. Clinton bombed the holy bejesus out of Iraq to divert attention from the Monica Lewinsky controversy. JFK left a whole bunch of Cubans out to hang when he went back on his promise to back up their invasion to retake the country from Castro. Plus lots more examples I'm too lazy to dredge up from memory.

Politicans, as a whole, seem like a pretty oppurtunistic, slug-like body of humans. Either seeking office for personal gain, recognition, or they just happen to be batshit-crazy (our current "leader" falls under this category).

Maybe we need many, many more choices during elections (nah, that probably wouldn't work; we'd sink to the lowest common denominator as usual), maybe we need to abolish all political parties and start over from scratch (nah, we'd eventually wind up exactly where we are today). Personally, I say just concentrate on cleaning up and making better the little speck of world you happen to live on and be content with that. Expecting more is wishful thinking.

No, I never voted. I almost voted once but got too distracted by a "Leave it to Beaver" marathon. To those who say not voting gives me no right to complain; I say not voting gives me every right to complain, since I didn't put these shmucks in office.
You did.
By the way, Eric, have a great trip on the "disoriented express" (good one).

David P. said...

Just happened to be rereading Marcus Aurelius' Meditations and came across this passage which may be of interest to someone, somewhere:

"From my brother Severus, [I learned] to love my kin, and to love truth, and to love justice... and from him I received the idea of a polity in which there is the same law for all, a polity administered with regard to equal rights and equal freedom freedom of speech, and the idea of a kingly government which respects most of all the freedom of the governed; I learned from him also consistency and undeviating steadiness in my regard for philosophy; and a disposition to do good, and to give to others readily, and to cherish good hopes, and to believe that I am loved by my friends..."